THE DAY I WAS CHALLENGED TO WRITE FAST Despite the clutter that seems to follow me around, people tell me I am a perfectionist. I’ll take that label to explain why it takes me an hour to get down a grocery list that is burdened with notes and drawings. If I were a short-story writer, this need to make my work so clean that an editor despairs of finding something to correct might make sense. I am a novelist. When I “tighten” my work, it somehow gets longer. The best advice is to make every word count, leave none untouched, dig into it until your eyes bleed. Great advice, but if I’m going to publish more than two more books in my expected lifetime, I need to be moving on, not bleeding from my eyeballs. Imagine my laughter when my publisher asked me to write a Holiday novel. This was the first of June 2016. I’d just completed Blessed Curse and sent it to her. This Holiday novel was due in the early fall. I spent quite a while laughing and trying to phrase my response. “Are you kidding me? I’m the slowest writer on the North American continent and you want a novel by early fall?” She’d offered me a one-sentence suggestion that ended with, “or something.” I stopped laughing long enough to re-read her email and somewhere in that six seconds, The Muse popped up and said, “We can do this.” “Right,” I said. “I know how we do things. You dictate a wonderful first four chapters and go on vacation while I’m sweating blood to make chapter five make sense with the rest.” “Yeah,” she said, “but this time we’ve got a direction.” Unlike, apparently, all those other times. Here’s the thing about my publisher. Unhappy with the way publishers treated their authors, she began her own publishing firm. A native New Yorker, she approached the job with her usual “clear obstacles with a sledge hammer” manner, hired an excellent couple of editors and got going. She offers writers a chance to grow in their craft, doesn’t require they take the same cast of characters and make up new stories for them, doesn’t require they write what she wants. She encourages them to write what they want and does all she can to support them while they do. In short, she’s a keeper. It had, at that point, been two years since my last publication. I was “perfecting” Blessed Curse all that time. With the Holiday novel, she’d offered me a challenge although she’d not stated it as a challenge, more like an opportunity. I decided to try it. A character danced on to my page, a kick-ass lawyer from Miami with a smart mouth and plenty of determination. She was young, rich, powerful and happy. She’d been victimized by an ass of a boyfriend who’d stolen her passwords and used them to steal her money. The last thing she wanted was a man in her life. The male lead was filled by an architect from San Diego who liked women just fine, but had no time for commitment. Somewhere behind them a couple of shadows lurked, their need so apparent it made my heart hurt. Further back still, a darker shadow waited, her intent not apparent, her need deeply hidden. I worked up an outline sort of thingie, which is as close to pre-writing as I get, and sent it to my publisher. She liked it, but she didn’t send a contract. I accepted that as a further challenge. She was waiting to see if I could pull this off. By mid-July, I had a novel. It was long enough and had the structure to be a novel. I emailed her that I had it, gave her the word count and told her she couldn’t have a peep at it until the absolute deadline. She sent the contract the next day. My perfectionist tendencies, having taken a back seat to my need to prove myself, returned with a vengeance. Between mid-July and the end of October, I edited the novel every day. My eyeballs bled as I considered every word, tightened every paragraph, checked every fact. I delivered it on the last possible day. The first editor returned a note saying she’d never seen a cleaner manuscript. The second editor was so impressed, she sent me a sweet note opining that Christmas Across Time was an excellent example of how to write a romance novel. Obviously, my first foray into writing a novel within a reasonable time was a success. Having thus pulled off what I considered a minor miracle, I returned to my newest manuscript, a paranormal about a group of immortals. I’d done it once, right? I could do it again. I am now into the third iteration of The Risen. I have (finally) a plot I can live with. The characters haven’t changed since I first had this idea many years ago. One of the problems is I have no real deadline for The Risen. The rest I will lay at the feet of my “perfectionism.”

MY BILL

When I was small, I had an imaginary playmate. His name was Bill. Bill accompanied me everywhere I went. If I forgot Bill in someone else’s house, I made arrangements for his safety (since I instructed once that he be kept in a dresser drawer, I’m not so sure about his comfort, but he was imaginary after all). If Bill was in someone else’s house, I didn’t play with him until we revisited and I reclaimed my playmate.

I was somewhere around three and a half years old when Bill left me. I remember clearly sitting on the front porch watching him walk up the narrow road. When he reached the state route, he turned right and without so much as a wave, disappeared from sight. I’ve not seen him since, which is probably the standard for imaginary playmates and three and a half year old people.

Interestingly enough, my baby brother was born only a few weeks after Bill left me. He was a tiny thing with a button nose and a bow of a mouth. I don’t remember his coming home. I do remember my mother waving at me from her hospital window since at the time children were not allowed inside hospitals. We carried bad diseases nobody wanted, it was believed. My first memory of him was watching my mother and step-father walk the floors with the little guy in the middle of the night while he screamed as if someone had a knife in his kidneys.

He grew out of the colic, finally, and continued to grow until he was a cherub whose presence delighted all the adults in my life. I suffered the usual twinges of jealousy. I had been until his birth not only the only child in the family, but because WWII was in progress when I was born, I was pretty much the only child in Nashville. I was sought after, petted, loved and treated like a small queen.

But even though he took my place in the sun, so to speak, this child was mine. I wasn’t suffering from identity confusion. I was neither his mother nor his father, but sitting in the center of my heart like a beautiful rainbow was the perfect belief that he’d been sent to me. His parents were handy to do change his diapers and feed him, but he was mine.

His name was William Russell Wittenmeier, Jr. They called him Bill.

(He’s the guy in the striped red shirt and hat in the picture above. The lady with him is the love of his life, Bettye.)

We grew together. He was always behind me by 3.5 years, but he didn’t walk in my shadow. I don’t think he knew I had a shadow. Although he remained mine in my mind and heart, he was his own kid, had his own interests, had his own way of doing things. He called the wheel-barrow the barwheewul, a name I still use today. I shivered and shook beneath the usual childhood diseases. He sat at the table shoveling in spaghetti while chicken pox erupted on his body.

I was emotional. He was rock steady and soon became the person I could share my thoughts with. We lay side-by-side on the warm summer grass, watched the stars and plotted futures that sometimes included interstellar travel.

I married, had children, listened to him spin an incredible story about Goldie Locks who was bopping through the woods one day in her Jag XKE when a valve spring broke and she was left alone. My babies were mesmerized.

He died in 2007, a freaky thing the result of a post op blood clot. Yesterday was his birthday. He was a wonderful son and brother, husband and father to his three children. He is mourned and missed by all who loved him.

When he died, so did the rainbow in my heart.

HELLO SPRING

April 10th here in 2016 Rural Hill, Tennessee. The Bradford Pears have bloomed and leafed. The Dogwoods are now bursting in all their glory. The question at this time of year is will we actually *have* a spring?

Of course, we will have a spring. Flowers will bloom, the azaleas will make our eyes pop. Trees will soften with tender green leaves. Wasps will return to stake out their territory (often beneath the hose hanger, which is only a problem if I intend to actually use the hose). The question is will the weather be warm enough for flip flops during the period between April 1 and July 1?

It’s a crap shoot, really. Some years, it’s warm enough for flip flops by late February, others it’s not warm enough until mid-May. Because northern Tennessee is just northern enough to feel the tail end of cold fronts that come down from Canada until the Jet Stream moves itself above New York, we are often playing in our shorts on Monday and back in jackets and jeans on Tuesday.

We don’t complain. Some people live in places like Oklahoma or Minnesota.

This spring appears to be a slow-arriver so we’ll play wardrobe roulette until things settle down.

Also this spring, I do believe I will finish BLESSED CURSE, the paranormal I began last summer. It’s spring in Rugby, Tennessee, too, where CURSE plays out, but Rugby is in the mountains, a totally different weather world than here in the bowl that makes up Nashville and surrounding counties and cities. In Rugby, the Bradford pears would be blooming except that Bradfords don’t do well in the mountains where the freeze line is about four inches deeper than here. They’ll be heralding the redbud and watching for the dogwoods about now.

Rugby is full of ghosts, by the way. AT midnight on December 31st, the manager of the first Tabard Inn dances on the property where the building was set. He dances with his wife whose pearls are lost in the bloody slash across her throat. His face is marred by the bullet hole in his forehead. They sway to the music, perhaps remembering the night he killed her and committed suicide. Mr. Oldfield, who came to Rugby from England, fell in love with the tiny village and then sent for his wife and child, bounces on one of the beds upstairs in Newbury House, Rugby’s premiere bed and breakfast, some nights. Newbury features prominently in CURSE.

Rugby operates as both a place to live if you want peace and quiet more than you want services and convenience and as a historic preserve. They have many activities and festivals year round, including in the spring. It’s a 2.5 hour drive from Nashville through some of the most lovely scenery around. If you go on the weekends, you can do lunch at the Harrow Road Café. If you go any time, you will find cool stuff to buy, great people to talk to and homes built near 1880. During some festivals, these houses are open for your viewing pleasure.

CALLING ALL ASPIRING WRITERS: LOOKY LOOKY!

Today Inkitt.com launched their Mystery / Thriller writing contest, called “Fated Paradox”.

See the details on the contest page: http://inkitt.com/fatedparadox
It’s for non published writers, but excerpts and old stories are eligible too, many established authors use their contests to promote their novels.

Their most active users include literary professors, and published authors too. They are proud of the high number of professional reviews and mature stories on the platform.

TIERNEY JAMES’S FIRST ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

Tierney James 2

The Rescued Heart is your first romantic suspense. Is that the kind of book you like to read?

The Rescued Heart

It is my first romantic suspense to date. I don’t know if I’ll continue down that path since I love writing action thrillers. Romantic suspense writers like Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney had a huge influence on me as a teenager. Now I like those suspenseful books by Sandra Brown, Nora Roberts and Catherine Coulter, at least in that genre. I still lean toward books by Tom Clancy, Brad Thor, James Rollins and Daniel Silva. Even as a kid I loved “edge of your seat” kind of movies and books.

So tell us about The Rescued Heart. Did you choose mining because it’s dangerous?

Not exactly. I chose mining because it was such a big part of my life for many years. My husband worked in the lead mines of the Missouri Ozarks. It’s rich with culture and history, not to mention danger. Our little town produced more lead than any other place in the world. It was also the highest grade. The sights and sounds still haunt me to this day. Part of my heart still lives there. I wanted to honor these remarkable people who provide the world with a product that could get them killed.

In a few words tell us what the book is about.

Returning home in hopes of putting her life back together after several disastrous relationships, Fawn finds that the man who drove her away ten years earlier is waiting to pick up where he left off. Her father is determined to keep them apart and hide the secret that forced her to run away from the handsome Garrett Horton. He’s convinced Garrett wants Fawn’s inheritance and his lead mines.  Nothing will stop Garrett this time from taking what he wants most; a heart as hard as the lead he brings up from the Ozark mines. Facing the truth soon brings the men to confront a more sinister problem; you can’t run away from a collapsed mine.

I read where you were a Solar System Ambassador for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. How did that come about?

From the time I was ten years old I’ve followed the space program. I’ve even applied to be one of the teacher astronauts. I’ve been to Space Camp for Educators and designed an after school geography/science program for junior high students. Applying to be an ambassador was not that big of a stretch for me. I served three years. My responsibilities were to go around and talk about what NASA was doing now. I also did simulations of living in space. There are times I still do that but not under the umbrella of NASA.

Will you ever write a science fiction story or maybe one with a space agency?

One of my characters in An Unlikely Hero is Carter Johnson. A former astronaut and bad boy, Carter never passed a mirror he didn’t love. He appears in all the Enigma Series. Whether I’ll write science fiction I’m not sure. I have many projects going right now. I do know that Carter will continue to complicate things for others when he shows up.

You love to travel. Have you been out of the country and does that affect you writing?

Traveling does affect my writing as well as being a geography teacher. I’ve been to the Great Wall of China, floated the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Africa, and strolled through Windsor Castle in England. Spain, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Zimbabwe, South Africa have all shaped who I am. The senses go on overload for me when I travel. Keeping a journal helps me bring that back to my characters.

What does your writing day look like?

In the mornings I try to catch up on correspondence and social media with marketing thrown in there as well. If I get to write a page or two before lunch then I’m on fire. The afternoon and evening is when I do most of my writing.

 

If you were granted an audience with a favorite writer, who would it be and why?

James Rollins had an enormous impact on me when I read his book The Judas Strain. I thought to myself, that is how I would like to write. I bought all of his books and began to study his technique. Now I will never be a James Rollins but his inspiration continues to spur me on to becoming a better writer.

How can readers contact you on social media?

www.ptierneyjames.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/TierneyJamesAction

Twitter: @TierneyJames1

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/ptierneyjames/

 

Biography:

Besides writing and traveling, Tierney serves as vice president of Sleuths’ Ink, a mystery writing group. She help create a writing workshop for new authors and loves to visit schools and community organizations to encourage others to write. Recently, Tierney gave up her position at a local college to write full time.

Winds of Deception

 

CHRISTMAS

Christmas is a big deal here at the Sartor house. Our inner children rule during the season. We love the lights, the parties, shopping, wrapping and giving. Putting up the Christmas tree is a sacred moment during which we play Christmas carols and sip spiked eggnog. The ornaments are memories from places we’ve visited or important moments in our lives.
Our night with our extended family is Christmas Eve, when they all gather here for dinner and the opening of gifts. We began with a son and a daughter, quickly accumulated daughters-in-law/sons-in-law, lost a couple of those along the way and picked up new ones. The couples had children and soon we’d grown from a group of four to six or eight. This year, we seated sixteen including ourselves. I keep adding chairs to the dining room and we have a table we set perpendicular to the big table so everyone can eat together, but the hated “children’s table” looms large in our future.
Gifts for us are a problem for our children because we need little and, like most couples in our age bracket, can purchase what we need when we need it. Several years ago, we decided to give creative $20.00 gifts to one another (the adults). We usually find something reasonably creative for the guys, but for my girls (my daughter and daughter-in-law) I shop the clothing sales and usually find absolutely gorgeous and expensive items for under $20.00 because both ladies are tiny and can wear sizes the rest of us truly believe are reserved for manikins.
Right now, we have a two-year-old among us and a couple of six-year-olds. Having little children under the tree is simply the best. This year, the two-year-old enjoyed the gift we’d given her for about four nanoseconds before she crawled into the sack in which it was delivered and then we all became two-year-olds. Her grandfather swung her about in the sack while we women chorused that the sack would fall apart and dump her on the floor.
It didn’t, and she had a marvelous time.
My daughter often gives her parents a combined gift, so I was somewhat caught off guard when Dave grabbed our gift from her and she said, “No, Dave. That one’s for Mom.” I picked it up immediately, had the devil’s own sweet time getting the paper to tear, but the minute I did, I realized what she’d done and squealed in delight.
She’d blown up the cover for BONES ALONG THE HILL to wall-picture size and framed it for me. As has been the case throughout this amazing journey into author-hood, I was not prepared for how wonderful it would be to see MY novel cover hanging on my study wall. I glance at it anytime I’m going by the room or going into the room and grin like a twelve-year-old with a new camera.
I’m proud of my children, proud of all of my family, but this Christmas, my lovely and talented daughter gets the prize for the most creative and welcome gift.

POTATO CANDY

My step-dad was a plasterer. He’d been a boiler maker for the railroad but then those pesky diesel-electric engines showed up and nobody needed boilers any more. He took a year to learn how to plaster walls, which, on the scale of that era was one fine job even if the lye in the plaster did eat his hands. (We’ll talk about what happened to plastered walls another day).
Because he made good money when he worked and none when he didn’t, the economic strata in which we lived fluctuated about as often as the stock market. When he was working, we had enough. My parents were solid, responsible people who left little to chance. In the good times, they banked half his salary so we wouldn’t starve in the bad times.
But looking back at the pictures, it’s easy to see neither of my parents bought clothing often or enjoyed luxuries.
Which brings me to the potato candy.
Because we didn’t waste in order to not want, my mom would take the final tablespoonful of mashed potatoes, pop it in a fairly large bowl and begin adding powdered sugar. Soon, the mixture was soup, but she kept adding until finally she had a sweet dough. She tossed it on the counter which she’d liberally dusted with more powdered sugar, sifted powdered sugar on top of the dough and rolled it out.
When it was relatively flat, she spread peanut butter (my fave is crunchy but she used smooth) all over the potato/sugar mixture, then rolled the thing into a long, narrow roll. She sliced across the roll, creating pin wheels, laid them out individually along a piece of waxed paper (remember waxed paper? Stuff was magic) to allow them to “set,” which was pretty much to dry.
Finally, when our little kid mouths were drooling like a baby’s, she’d holler that the candy was ready.
I’ve eaten candy made by some of the finest candy makers in the world, but to date, I have never tasted anything better than my mom’s potato candy.
Which brings me to writing (you knew we’d get there, right?)
Potato candy was made of familiar things in simplicity. Great literature is sometimes very complicated, verbose and filled with extravagant images. Great literature is also often simple, comprised of familiar things and presented in plain language.
Do I prefer one over the other? No. I’ve read both, enjoyed both, sobbed with both and been terrified with both.
But when a writer drops over that hill called genius and presents a very simple story so the presentation itself lifts it from the morass of same/same and makes it sing, that writer’s book becomes one I never forget.